By DAVID GREEN
After Morenci’s alternative education program was shut down a few years ago, the concept of the alternative classroom changed.
What was once geared toward students who had difficulty working in a regular classroom has now emerged into a much broader concept.
Alternative education will be back for the next school year with a new teacher and a new focus.
Morenci native Molly McDowell was hired to lead the classroom. She started her education career as an art teacher with the Reading district, but she returned to school to earn a master’s degree in special education and most recently worked at Madison Middle School as both an art teacher and a special education teacher.
“It’s no secret that I’ve always wanted to return to Morenci and teach,“ McDowell said. “My husband and I have three young children, and two of them attend Morenci Elementary. Being on the same school schedule is something that the whole family is excited about. Essentially, Morenci is home. ”
She’s looking forward to her new venture in the alternative classroom to help students determine what best fits their educational needs.
“Alternative education is a chance for students to get back on track,” McDowell said, “and I like the idea that I am instrumental in helping them do just that.”
She expects to work with at-risk students who aren’t succeeding in the regular classroom, with students who have dropped out of school and are working or in some cases raising a family.
Because all of the courses will be taken online, McDowell hopes to work with some students who are currently home-schooled and want to tap into Morenci’s new online class offerings. There are also “virtual students” taking all of their classes online at home or the library. By enrolling with Morenci, they will have a broad array of classes along with assistance from McDowell, if needed.
It’s a good opportunity for young people who have never earned a diploma to better themselves by improving math and reading skills, said Morenci superintendent Mike McAran, or to recover credits to help earn a diploma.
Classes can be taken in the school or from home. If students choose to take classes at the school, they also have the option of a “blended” learning approach—enrolling in TECH Center classes or taking classes offered in the school such as physical education, art and band. They would also have the opportunity to engage in extracurricular activities including athletics and drama productions.
Morenci is joining the 16-school consortium being organized by the Fayette district to use classes developed by Pearson Education’s Connections Learning curriculum.
McDowell describes the program as a rigorous college prep curriculum that offers classes from grades six through 12. Gifted and talented options are available for middle school students.
The courses go well beyond the basics, McDowell said.
“While they will obtain the basic courses required for entrance into college,” she said,
“students can also take over 15 Advanced Placement courses, seven different languages, introduction courses to a wide variety of career path choices, and numerous computer technology courses.”
Every student is unique, McDowell said, and the Morenci Alternative Education program will work with students to determine what is best for each one.
McAran gives no guarantee that the program will be a success in attracting new students, but he’s willing to give it a try to help meet the needs of the changing field of education.